It would appear that Barnaby Lenon, featured in Peter Wilby’s article (From Harrow to hairdressing: elite school head takes a new direction, 10 July), has not explored the fundamental problem – the school curriculum is geared towards university entrance. Having spent 30 years of my life working in the further education sector and a further 15 years as a volunteer working with young offenders, I have found that the school experience of many of the young people in question who are made to follow an academic programme does not leave them with an enthusiasm for learning, just a feeling of failure in not achieving a higher grade, and a general boredom with the whole process.
It is irrelevant whether “T-levels” will work or not, the possible recruits need to see their relevance, both in terms of job prospects and a learning process that is not going to bore them so much that they leave. Some years ago an act was passed that made it compulsory for students up to the age of 18 to be in some kind of education, training or employment. It would be most interesting to learn both what the take-up rate is, and the drop-out rate. For these young people, and adults also venturing into post-school education, it is not just what they are required to learn, but how they learn, and too little attention is paid by schools and the government to this issue.
South Wonston, Hampshire
• With the independent sector continuing to use IGCSEs, it is little wonder that concerns have been reignited “among some heads that the state-private divide will widen” (The saga of the IGCSE: if it’s good enough for Eton, why not for my local school?, 10 July). “Competing equally for the best university places” is clearly a government policy that is dead in the water.
A-levels are also being sidelined by many private and high-achieving state schools, which opt instead for Pre-U examinations. These are set and marked by teachers in the independent sector, are not regulated like other exams by the Joint Council for Qualifications, and, like IGCSEs, are run by Cambridge Assessment; they first came to light with last year’s cheating scandal (Leading public school suspends teacher over exam cheating claims, 29 August 2017).
A freedom of information request revealed that history was the most popular Pre-U examination last year with independent schools; of the 745 entered, 451 were awarded distinctions, the equivalent of A*/A grades; that’s 60.5% of the entry, compared with 23.4% gaining the same grades at A-level. For English literature, a massive 74.9% of the entry received the equivalent of A*/A grades at Pre-U, compared with the A-level percentage of 24.8%. The physics figures were 65.8% compared with 29.6%, maths 67.7% as opposed to 41.8%. In the less popular subjects, the percentages of top grades are even more remarkable; Spanish Pre-U 82.6% compared with the A-level’s 34%, and music 78.6% compared with 19% at A-level.
Looks like IGCSEs are not the only “easier exams” being taken by private schools “to boost their chances of top grades and places at the best universities”.
• Hats off to the parents of St Olave’s and the Guardian journalists who unearthed the scandal of academic cleansing in posh sixth forms (Inquiry condemns school that barred A-level pupils, 11 July). I trust they are considering suing the former superhead for personal injury to young people resulting from his dereliction of duty of care. Cutting off a student’s progress halfway through a course because of perceived performance issues is clearly immoral. A-levels don’t finish in year 12. Senior staff and governors at the school were also complicit and spineless in not challenging their much-admired supremo. But they were happy enough with the super results and league table position for long enough. I wonder how widespread your readers think this problem is. Is it endemic at university level, for example?
Unfortunately, I once worked with a superhead: he told me he was “charismatic”. I laughed and thought “so was Jesus … and Adolf Hitler”. We didn’t get on.
(One-time head of sixth), Gwernymynydd, Flintshire
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